The Bears’ last four first round draft picks combined to play a total of 24 games last season, and first-round pick Leonard Floyd had half that number alone.
The top three selections in Ryan Pace’s first draft class in 2015 have played in just 33 of a possible 48 games, Eddie Goldman leads the way with 21 of those.
As far as 2017 is concerned, Pace’s offseason moves focused more on roster depth than big splashes that could be written in ink on the depth chart. Based on what his team has experienced injury-wise in his two years at the helm (as those supposed building blocks have mostly been blocking the door to the trainer’s room), it shows the general manager is still counting on them to finally put a full, or at least most of a full, season together.
This week’s mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday at Halas Hall is the final barrier some of these kids must get through before reporting to training camp six weeks from now. While we wait to see how many of those projected core players take part this week, especially all three days, Goldman is also tired of waiting for health, and beyond that, growth.
He says he’s fully recovered from the high ankle sprain that limited him to just six games in his sophomore campaign, spending some of the early portion of the offseason continuing rehab at a facility in San Diego. But he still managed 2.5 sacks in that limited time a year ago, and has seven for his career, which is a pretty impressive number for any nose tackle who excels at occupying opposing linemen to clog running lanes. And he’s well aware of how it takes a defensive village to improve on an embarrassing total of just 28 takeaways the last two seasons, including an NFL record 11 last year.
“We’re putting emphasis on the takeaways,” Goldman said after last Tuesday’s OTA in which that side of the ball gets vocal when they forced one in seven-on-seven drills. “When we get them, we’re rallying to the ball helping the way to get to the end zone. It’s one of the major points that Vic (Fangio) is making in the classroom.”
It would be unwise to think that defensive coordinator Fangio’s unit will suddenly morph into Lovie Smith-style production. But Goldman says the problem’s being addressed with regularity, and just like all Bears fans, he’s getting impatient for the never-ending injury bug to run its course. That’s especially true up front as a revamped secondary learns to work together. That also means having all the pass rush components in place as Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston (and eventually, Danny Trevathan) work their way back from various injuries and surgeries.
“The front seven on any team is always the core," he said. "I feel like we’re meshing, we’re coming together, playing good, and there’s an urgency.”
And as Young recently shared, the defense (which still flirted with top 10 status much of last season before a miserable final three games) wants to take the reins, and take over the team’s identity, as several new offensive components learn to mesh.
“If we do our job," he said, "the offense can do its job more effectively.”
A full season from a healthy Goldman is, quite literally, front and center toward doing that.